Ashley Twichell remains undecided as to whether or not she’ll compete at Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships at the end of the month.
One thing she is certain of, however, is that she’s already earned her spot on the U.S. Team heading to Budapest to take on the rest of the world at FINA World Championships.
Twichell secured her ride to Europe several weeks ago when she won the 10k competition at the U.S. Open Water National Championships. She’ll compete in both the 5k and 10k in Hungary.
And while she went into Open Water Nationals with a strategy, just as past competitions have taught her, eventually she had to redirect her original plans for an alternative route.
“I was extremely happy with my swim at Open Water Nationals, although I can’t say the way it transpired was planned or expected,” she said. “While I did have a tentative strategy in place, I also know by now that due to the variables in open water, and the inability to predict how others are going to swim, that there was a good chance my desired strategy wouldn’t necessarily happen.”
As it went down, one of the competitors from Italy made a charge in the beginning of the third lap, and Twichell followed her.
When she looked back after a bit, she was surprised to see that there was about a 15-meter gap between the chase pack and them.
“I was thinking it would be great if the two of us could continue to swim together and put more distance on that chase pack; however, she dropped out of the race at the end of that third lap (the 5K point),” she said. “I then had to decide whether to fall back with the pack and conserve energy or keep pushing and swim solo.”
Twichell made the decision to keep swimming at the same pace and managed to maintain her lead through to the finish.
Considering Twichell endured shoulder pain and underwent surgery to correct it over the past couple of years, the win was particularly sweet for her.
“This race and the win meant a lot to me,” she said. “I had a pretty subpar 2013 Nationals, and while part of this was due to my worsening shoulder injury, I believe a lot of it also stemmed from the fact that I still hadn’t quite gotten over the disappointment of (missing the Olympic Team in) 2012.
“Therefore, to come back after missing another Olympic Team last year and have a great race and make this summer’s World Championship team was huge for me. I’ve also done every race at World Championships except the 10k, so I am really looking forward and honored to have the opportunity to compete in the 10k at Worlds.”
Because she didn’t expect to still be swimming six years after she graduated from Duke University, Twichell’s accomplishment is special for her at this stage of her life and career.
While open water swimming has been her greatest love for the better part of the last decade, she also still makes time to get in the pool and race – winning a silver medal in the 800 freestyle last December at Short Course World Championships.
“I definitely did not think that I would still be competing in the pool six years later,” she said. “I would certainly say that my primary focus is open water; however, I still love competing in the pool, and my times are still dropping, so I do plan on continuing to go to pool meets.
“I also think that continuing to focus on speed in the pool is very beneficial for open water races, as many of them come down to a final sprint.”
After two-plus years living and training in Mission Viejo, Calif., and working with Coach Bill Rose, Twichell returned to her North Carolina college roots in September 2013 to be near family.
“I am so grateful for my time there (Mission Viejo), and I will forever look back on that time period as one of the most special and rewarding times of my life,” she said. “Coach Rose had more confidence in me than I had in myself from the very beginning, and I can say, without a doubt, that I wouldn’t still be swimming if it weren’t for him.”
Over the past couple of years, she’s had multiple coaches, including John Payne and Raz Cuparencu, and now she’s training with the University of North Carolina team under Rich DeSelm.
She’s also had the opportunity to train with her coaches at Duke a few times, which she said she loves as her time at her alma mater were four of the best years of her life.
“It’s so amazing watching their programs continue to rise – I am a very proud alum,” she said. “All of these coaches have played a huge role in getting me where I am today. I am really loving my current situation. The UNC coaches and swimmers were all so welcoming right from day one, and Chip Peterson and I have both really enjoyed being able to train with them.
“It’s a great atmosphere, and I am pushed every day in workouts. I have gone best times in the 400 and 800 (freestyle events) while training with UNC.”
Married in 2015 to Derek Wall, Twichell said she is gaining ground on the day when she decides to hang up her suit and start a family and post-swimming career.
While that exact timeline is undetermined, turning 28 next week and nearing 30 two years from now when she takes another shot at living her longtime Olympic dream is something that she said are definitely on her radar.
“I have personally seen the effects focusing on the mental aspect can have in my own career, and think I would really enjoy working with other athletes on this somewhere down the road,” said Twichell, who plans to use her psychology degree post-swimming to practice sports psychology.
“I don’t think it is any secret that competing at an Olympics is my ultimate goal. However, I also am fully aware that my career up to this point is more than I ever imagined it would be. I’ve been on several international teams at numerous levels, representing Team USA, which is something I will forever be grateful for and humbled by.”
In the meantime, Twichell said she plans to take her swimming decisions year-by-year – always having long-term goals but never feeling obligated to keep swimming.
When she decides to call it a career, she’ll be more than ready to leave it all behind.
“I have always told myself that I am only going to continue training and competing so long as I still love it,” she said. “This mentality of thinking of swimming as a privilege rather than a chore helps me train and compete faster, and I also attribute my long career to taking this approach.
“This mindset also allows me to truly take in and get the most out of each and every competition, rather than always looking ahead to the next. I plan on being completely invested in this summer’s World Championships, and then taking some time afterwards to reevaluate.”
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